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Trial delayed again in fatal Glacier Highway car crash case

Judge denies Ryan West's motion to dismiss indictment

Posted: May 15, 2012 - 11:03pm

The jury trial for the 26-year-old Juneau man accused of murder after a fatal car crash on Glacier Highway last summer was pushed back once again.

Slated to begin next week, attorneys on Monday asked for more time since they are still awaiting DNA results from the crime lab in Anchorage.

District Attorney David Brower told the judge he expected the results last week, but the lab was having software problems.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez vacated the May 21 trial start date, and scheduled the parties to meet that day to discuss how to proceed.

Ryan W. West is charged with second-degree murder for knowingly engaging in conduct that resulted in 19-year-old Gabriel Carte’s death on June 6, 2011.

The state alleges West was driving his Dodge truck near Mile 32 on Glacier Highway when it crashed, but West claims Carte was driving at the time.

West’s attorney David Seid, moved to dismiss the indictment, but Menendez denied that motion Friday.

Menendez ruled the state presented inadmissible evidence to the grand jury in August when it allowed two witnesses to testify West does not allow others to drive his truck.

But, Menendez wrote, the remaining admissible evidence was legally sufficient to support the indictment.

“The evidence regarding Mr. West’s refusal to let others drive is arguably prejudicial, but the admissible evidence is highly probative and not outweighed by any prejudicial effect of the inadmissible evidence,” Menendez wrote.

Menendez also concluded that there was enough evidence to support the second-degree murder charge, which Seid argued should only be reserved for cases where there is extreme intoxication with egregious driving conduct. West testified at the grand jury he only had two beers, and he had a blood alcohol content level equivalent to .071, which is under the .08 limit, according to court documents.

“A grand jury proceeding is not intended to be a mini-trial in which the state presents all evidence necessary to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Menendez wrote. “The prosecutor’s burden is to introduce sufficient evidence to establish probability of guilt.”

The judge noted police officers testified at the grand jury hearing West was driving somewhere between 74 and 83 miles per hour at the time of the crash, in a 40-miles-per-hour zone. A warning sign indicating the speed limit and a turn was posted about one-fourth of a mile before the turn where West’s Dodge lost control, one officer, Sgt. Paul Hatch, testified.

An expert in accident reconstruction and occupant kinematics, Charles Lewis of TechRecon, Inc. in Port Orchard, Wash., also testified at the grand jury, saying the passenger, not the driver, would have been the one to sustain the fatal injuries, according to Menendez’ ruling. Lewis testified Carte died from head trauma.

Menendez also noted blood and brain matter were found on the passenger side of the truck, and the vehicle sustained extensive damage to the passenger side, as well as a crushed roof and missing rear driver’s side tire.

The judge added a witness saw West driving, with Carte in the passenger seat, as they left Eagle Beach that evening. West testified at the grand jury he and Carte switched seats shortly thereafter.

West remains in custody on $500,000 bail.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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